[Opinion] – Acknowledging the elephants in the room

Monday the elephant got bigger, Congress voted down the bailout and stocks plummeted. There is no doubt this race will continue to be full of difficult questions. How do candidates deal with them? They beat around the bush âÄî sometimes literally. Who has a bigger grab bag of avoidance strategies for those deer-in-headlights moments? The Maverick. John McCain does not want to talk about: Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran; how he is going to rescue the economy; how he would specifically reform Washington; how long he intends to stay in the war in Iraq; e-mail; how long it would take for offshore drilling to really make a difference in our foreign oil dependency; his age; and how unqualified Sarah Palin really is. McCain initially sets the tone when heâÄôs asked a question. His first remarks in FridayâÄôs debate were diversion: âÄúI do have a sad note tonight. Sen. [Ted] Kennedy is in the hospital. HeâÄôs a dear and beloved friend to all of us. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the lion of the senate.âÄù Before talking about a difficult financial crisis, he wants to connect a different tragedy: KennedyâÄôs. Then he subliminally triggers a symbol — the lion. His analysts hope the next time we think of McCain, our synapses will fire: McCain, sympathy, friend, Kennedy, lion, courage and leader. The connections are quite a stretch, but itâÄôs still a sly, subliminal strategy. He also constantly throws out references to his long record and calls himself a Maverick, The Sheriff, and a reformer. Then McCain plays offense. He frequently used a negative tone with Barack Obama during FridayâÄôs debate and he refused to make eye contact while undercutting him with statements like pork-barrel projects, liberalism and failure. When Obama appeared well-versed in foreign policy, McCain would interrupt him with the phrase, âÄúwhat Obama doesnâÄôt understandâĦâÄù Unfortunately, what McCain doesnâÄôt understand are earmarks. According to The New York Times, McCainâÄôs statement that earmarks have drastically increased is false. They have actually decreased by $2.4 billion since 2005. The Times also reported that even if earmark spending would be cut, something both candidates are in favor of, it would only decrease spending by 7 percent. On MSNBCâÄôs fact check, David Sirota negates McCainâÄôs plan to freeze all spending, except for defense, stating that the governmentâÄôs non-defense spending is the lowest itâÄôs been in proportion of our budget since the 1960s. Obama, on the other hand, does not want to talk about: How much the financial situation will affect his priorities in office; why he did not hold a hearing about the Iraq war in his subcommittee; his opposition to the war in Iraq; and how liberal he really is. While on the defensive, Obama agrees with his opponent. At least eight times, Obama stated that he absolutely agreed with McCain. Was this effective? MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan said Obama allowed McCain to push him around, but he wonders if âÄúthe graciousness and natural niceness of Barack Obama might have come across better (than McCainâÄôs aggressive approach).âÄù ObamaâÄôs debating style tends to show respect for his opponent by expressing their similarities, before he establishes their differences, which, according to New York MagazineâÄôs John Heilemann, he articulated well. Obama made strong arguments against McCain: Voting with Bush 90 percent of the time, the problem with focusing on Iraq âÄî rather than Afghanistan or Pakistan âÄî and his unwillingness to talk with Spain, but overall he was too nice. Next time Obama needs to nail harder. Ashley Goetz welcomes comments at [email protected]